Saturday, December 05, 2015

COP21 : What can it do for Rina - a climate change refugee?

21st UNFCCC Conference of the Parties or COP21 has just begun. Its THE most important climate summit of our lifetime where we expect the world to strike a climate deal - one that will be "gender responsive". On the occasion, I am running a 2-week blog campaign, connecting the dots among COP21, Climate Change and Gender

 Rina Dash is an undocumented migrant worker in New Delhi. In 2008, she came here from Satkhira district of Bangladesh. There was a cyclone she says, and it destroyed her home and flooded her little farm she says. It was super cyclone Sidr, I learned - a disaster that killed over 3000 people.

After the flood water went down, nothing could be grown on the far, says Rina. So, her husband suggested that they migrate to New Delhi . 

Why Delhi? "Because we heard thee was plenty of jobs."
But when they came here, her husband found a job of a rickshaw puller. Rina, when I met her, was a janitor. She was paid as  a daily wager. They live in a juggi - a shack made of tarpaulin sheet.

Memories of a climate refugee: Rina shows the photos of her relatives who died in the cyclone. She requested me not to show her face as this could lead to her deportation as an illegal migrant
Across New Delhi, there are thousands of  undocumented migrant workers like Rina
and her husband.Many of them are actually climate refugees. But we don't have a mechanism to count climate refugees, so they are all seen as just migrants.

In fact, every year, about 26.4 million people are forced from their homes by natural disasters, says UNHCR, And yet,  climate refugees are also not counted for at the COP. The negotiators are not considering the rights to climate refugees.

Why is that so?  The reason is, in today's world, the definition of a "refugee" is a person who is escaping persecution by a country. 

So, for example, a person running away from Afghanistan due to Taliban conflict is a refugee. But a person running away from Afghanistan where an earthquake hit, destroyed his home, killed his family and tremors continue, is not  a refugee. This is why Rina is not  a refugee. She is just an illegal worker who can be caught and deported without any compensation whatsoever.

This is why, when World Refugee Day comes and the UNHCR runs a series of advertisements featuring refugees, it does not include a voice of those who lost everything in a Nepal earthquake or  a Burma landslide or a Tsunami in India

A woman in a fisherman's village in India who lost her home in the Tsunami. Since then, her family has to move three times as erosion has increased and her home keeps caving in
 Can COP21 change that?
Since there is no accepted or official definition for climate refugees right now, the COP21 can not directly address the plight of people like Rina.

However, it can do 2 things: 1) On the mitigation front,  agree to limit the global warming under 1.5 degree Celsius, so that the climate risks will not dramatically rise. And that means, the number of disasters and climate refugees will not dramatically rise.

2) On the adaptation front, it can agree to increase more funding and easier transfer of technologies to vulnerable communities, so they can cope better with climate change.

No, these measures will help not Rina seek her rights to  a better life in India. But they can help many other climate victims like Rina with a better coping mechanism after a disaster has struck.

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